ATLANTA — Matt Ryan has never been through a stretch like this.
Clearly, he can’t carry the Atlanta Falcons all by himself.
Ryan has thrown seven interceptions over the past two weeks, failing to spark one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams. The Falcons (2-6) started the season touted as a leading Super Bowl contender, but injuries have ruined those hopes heading into today’s game against the first-place Seattle Seahawks (8-1).
“Obviously, I have not played my best the past couple of weeks,” Ryan said. “But I’ve got to keep plugging away, keep working at it. Trust my preparation, try my ability, trust the guys around me, and know that I’m capable of better.”
Ryan has been hindered by a shaky line, a struggling running game and the loss of star receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury. Not surprisingly, the glaring mistakes have started to come in spurts with the Falcons desperately trying to turn things around.
The Arizona Cardinals picked off Ryan four times in a 27-13 victory. The Carolina Panthers came up with three more picks – returning one for a touchdown – in a 34-10 blowout last week.
“I’ve got to be a little more patient, understand what’s there and what’s not there,” said Ryan, who is suddenly on pace for a career-worst 20 interceptions. “I have tried to force in a couple of passes. That’s going to happen when you’re trying to play aggressive and trying to make plays. I’ve got to clean up my decision-making a little bit.”
Besides Ryan’s slump, five things to watch for in today’s game between the Falcons and Seahawks:
• Run, Hawks, run. The Seahawks want to run the ball like they did last week against Tampa Bay – 35 carries for 198 yards – with Marshawn Lynch getting the bulk of the carries.
• Oh, and stopping the run, too. The Seattle defense has been shredded on the ground the past two games, giving up 205 yards to Tampa Bay and 200 to St. Louis. This is a good week to get healthy, facing an Atlanta team that ranks last in the league in rushing.
• White’s return. The Falcons figure to get a boost from the return of receiver Roddy White, who has missed the last three games nursing ankle and hamstring issues.
• Turnovers wanted. Like all coaches, Atlanta’s Mike Smith considers turnover margin one of the key indicators of success. They are minus-seven in that category and failing to take advantage of the few chances they do create.
• Payback time. The Seahawks surely remember what happened on their last visit to the Georgia Dome, when they were poised for a huge upset in the divisional playoffs. Wilson led Seattle back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter, with Lynch scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just 31 seconds remaining. Alas, the Falcons hit two long passes and Matt Bryant connected on a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, rallying Atlanta to a 30-28 win and a spot in the NFC title game.